PASADENA, Calif. -- A massive scientific rover is set to make a dynamic landing on the planet Mars on Sunday night, a type of landing which has never been tried on another world, beginning two years of exploration.
The Mars Curiosity rover will enter the atmosphere of the Red Planet protected by a heat shield and then streak across the alien atmosphere on a course to land at the base of a three-mile high mountain known as Aeolis Mons inside Gale Crater.
The rover's landing phase will have scientists at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and observers across the planet tuned in as a huge sky crane separates upward from the rover unit and fires thrusters to slow the rover down.
Suspended by cables twenty-five feet long, Curiosity will be gently sat down inside Gale crater at 1:17 a.m. EDT on Monday. Official word of it's landing will be received fourteen minutes later at JPL.
The exact landing zone will be in the northwest section of the the 96-mile wide crater.
Once safely down the cables will separate from the never before flown sky crane and it will jet away off into the horizon.
Curiosity is part of the Mars Science Laboratory which will roam the Martian surface for 23 Earth months looking for signs of life within it's environmental history.
"This may be one of the thickest exposed sections of layered sedimentary
rocks in the solar system," states NASA MSL Deputy Project Scientist Joy Crisp. "The rock record preserved in those layers
holds stories that are billions of years old -- stories about whether,
when, and for how long Mars might have been habitable."
The ten-foot long rover will arrive loaded with the latest technology for taking soil samples and will use a laser to blast apart rocks to study it's makeup.
Curiosity will have several high resolution cameras aboard one of which is at the top of it's mast. JPL scientists state you will view Mars like never before.
The rover began it's 567 million mile journey from Cape Canaveral on November 26 high atop an Atlas V rocket.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)